Last month, Hurricane Harvey submerged Houston in over 50 inches of rain and caused widespread damage to homes, schools, and communities. This last week, Hurricane Irma ravaged communities across Florida. Over half the state lost power; countless families fled their homes; and some had their homes demolished. 

As schools reopen across Florida and Houston, how can educators help students process stress in a healthy way? More broadly speaking, how can educators and parents everywhere help students cope with stress? 

In this article, I'll share three strategies for handling stress, based on Mawi Learning's work with over one million students since 1999. While this article will not turn a parent or educator into a credentialed counselor, this article provides proven tools, engaging videos, and powerful application points to help students process stress in a healthy way.

1. Connect Stress to Coping Mechanisms

Many students know what stress is, but do not make the connection between stress and coping mechanisms.

To help students identify sources of stress and make the connection to coping mechanisms, have them watch this short video.

ShrinkYourStress

The aha moment for many students is when they realize that they already have coping mechanisms, and they may not have chosen them intentionally. 

2. Help Students Choose Healthy Coping Mechanisms

While the focus of this blog is students, many adults do not know what coping mechanisms they use to manage stress. Most of us developed our coping mechanisms from childhood and they run on autopilot in the background of our lives. 

Before students can choose healthy coping mechanisms, we need to help them see the coping mechanisms they already have. 

To help students develop awareness, start by asking students to create a general list of healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. You can use this list as a starting point:

Unhealthy Coping Mechanism Healthy Coping Mechanism
Isolating oneself Asking for help and/or helping others
Overeating junk food Deep breathing techniques
Buying something expensive that you don't need Taking a walk
Yelling at others Playing a musical instrument
Using drugs Talking with a friend
Staying up all night Playing your favorite sport
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Ask students to identify one healthy and one unhealthy coping mechanism they have used in the past month. It should be something they feel comfortable sharing with you and possibly the class.

Now, ask students to write down two healthy coping mechanisms they would like to use during the coming week, and one unhealthy coping mechanism they want to take extra care to avoid.  You may need to provide training on healthy coping mechanisms such as deep breathing.

Now, it’s time to apply. Take five minutes every day or every other day to check in with your students and see how they are doing with their stress and coping mechanisms. If you notice the students need additional support, refer them to a counselor or school social worker.

3. Share a Message of Hope

How about your larger message? What should you tell students and your community when everyone feels overwhelmed or defeated?

First, acknowledge the challenge: “The hurricane was devastating. People died. We lost a lot of property. There is no easy fix. It will take a while to recover.” And then share an unwavering message of resilience, hope, and eventual success: “We are going to get past this and come out stronger and better than ever before. We are going to learn, grow, and persevere together.”

Here’s a video, where I describe the biggest challenge I faced as a student, and how I was able to maintain hope even when I had no idea how I would ever be happy again.

CopeWithStress

I was able to persevere in many ways because resilience had been modeled for me by my parents and my community. Now, children across Houston, Florida, and our world are looking to you, their educators and parents, to model hope and resilience and inspire a brighter future.

The videos and ideas in this article are copyrighted by Mawi Learning and come from our online leadership course for middle school students. To learn more about helping your students develop resilience, growth mindset, and essential social emotional skills, contact us today.

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